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Evolving fashionable body shape ideals through social representation in the fashion industry

Info: 9724 words (39 pages) Dissertation
Published: 28th Feb 2022

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Tagged: FashionPsychology


Body shape ideals have and will forever be evolving through the centuries. The following exhibition catalogue will explore some of these body shape ‘ideals’ and explore the social representation that they hold/held. The term ‘ideal’, when used in the fashion industry, is used to describe fashionable body shapes as a ‘standard of perfection’ (Stevenson and Waite, 2011). However, the ‘standard of perfection’ has become distorted over the years and will continue to do so in the coming years. Brumberg and Brumberg (1997) believe that the main reason why the ‘standard of perfection’ becomes distorted is primarily due to changes within popular culture and the rise in interest with obtaining an ‘ideal’ body image. This hypothesis, along with many others will be explored when looking at the evolving fashionable body shape ideals.

A brief account of some of the main fashionable body types will now be highlighted, to form an acquaintance. The author will first examine the phenomenon of the Gibson girl figure in 1910; This was a drawing illustration that became influential to all which inspired impersonation within the society. The self-confidence depicted by the illustration coordinated with socio-political issues of the suffragette movement. The illustration was also a role model for the way woman dressed, with an ‘ideal’ body shape of a petite waist, big bust and wide hips (Stearns, 2002). The end of the First World War in 1918 brought about change and ended the influential impact that Gibson’s image had on the society. This made way for the new ‘ideal’ body shape known as the ‘flapper girl’, making slim girls the wanted body of choice (Watson, 2009).

Between the 1930’s and the 1970’s, several other fashionable body shapes became known and idealised. From the era in the 1920’s the focus was on obtaining a curve-less and flat chested body shape (Brumberg and Brumberg, 1997). The 1930’s to the 1940’s saw a rise in wanting a more “shapely figure” (Grogan, 2017). In the 1950’s the ideal figure of obtaining a small waist continued; the movement of popular culture drove this figure during the influential era of the Hollywood movie industry (Watson, 2009). This drive led the fashion industry to promote body shapes with small waists, slim legs and big busts. The 1960’s ideal body shape saw the relapse of the shapeless petite figure, like the 1920’s body shape ideal (Grogan, 2017). However, in the 1970’s, moderate curves were coming back into fashion but the ideal figure was still hipless with a flat stomach (Grogan, 2017). Later on in the 1980’s, the ‘ideal’ body shape was known as the ‘super model’, a figure that represented fitness (Watson, 2009). This figure represented an ideal body shape of a woman who were slim and tall but still curvy in the right places, showing she exercised (Grogan, 2017). Popular culture in the 1980’s was all about exercise and fitness, putting emphasis on thinness; this then influenced 1990’s body shape ideal ‘the waif’ (Stearns, 2009). A thin and bony figure with a genderless style, that caused controversial views on the extreme diet body shape (Gibson, 2011). Nevertheless, the petite era ended, making way for 2010’s ideal body shape ‘bootylicous’. This figure is about acquiring a big bottom with a small waist; this fashionable body shape is still influential in the present day (Grogan, 2017). Altogether these various body shape ideals have been made known by popular culture and through visual identity in the fashion industry (Grogan, 2017).

The belief surrounding the relationship of social representations and their influence on consumer buying and behavior is supported by the following hypothesis; “Social representations are social because they are shared by many individuals and as such constitute a social reality which can influence individual behavior” (Howarth, 2016).

Therefore, underpinning contextual theory to support the focus of the research project and the fashion images that will be examined. Thus, allowing a developed understanding as to how body shapes have come to dominate various periods.

In relation to the exhibition catalogue, four specific eras will be analysed and questioned. The main theme of this fashion focused exhibition catalogue will revolve around the evolution of body shape ideals through social representation in the fashion industry. Social representation of the fashion industry has led to the domination of ‘ideal’ body shapes in westernised countries, through the influence of contextual advertising in popular culture and fashion retail. The key focus of analysing the chosen specific time periods will allow in depth research with emphasis on the evidence. This will be demonstrated through high and low fashion images and thorough critical analysis of the four fashion eras studied. These various eras allow the author and reader to gain understanding as to how ‘ideal’ body shapes have evolved. Understanding of the focused body shapes will be gained by looking at social representation and what influence they have had on advertiser’s promotional strategies. These four eras of fashionable body shapes being; 1910’s- Gibson girl, 1980’s- super model, 1990’s- waif and 2010’s- bootylicious body shape ideals.

Catalogue 1 is titled ‘Era’s’ of fashionable body shapes’. A visual structure, addressed with critical analysis of the four eras of ‘ideal’ body shapes and examples of social representations. The movement of fashionable body shapes will be illustrated through a creative timeline of images, what era and social representation, linking with social changes that have changed popular culture.

Catalogue 2 is titled ‘Contextual advertising for fashion’, combining both a visual and theoretical structure that relates to catalogue 1. The four body shapes discussed in catalogue 1 will form a study for catalogue 2, illustrating how products and advertisements relate to ideal body shapes in that period. Images of high and low fashion advertisements will be shown.

Catalogue 3 is titled ‘Product promotion: Content analysis of VOGUE’, a detailed content analysis on the high fashion magazine VOGUE. In-depth analysation illustrating why their approach to body shapes and sizing has evolved and how this has been communicated through advertising and how they have done this through various magazine issues, relating to ideal body shapes.

The methodology of theoretical and visual framework used throughout the catalogues will allow the author and reader to gain a deeper understanding into fashionable body shapes. The understanding will be directly related to how these body shapes have evolved through social representation in the fashion industry through critical analysis.

Literature Review

Over the years, social forms and fashionable body shapes have altered dependent on social and cultural changes in westernised countries, changing people’s perception of idealised body shapes. Therefore, it is important to understand the cause of changes to fashionable body shapes and why these body forms became so influential to a mass market of consumers.

‘Ideal’ body shapes are hugely influenced by social representation and fashionable idols throughout the fashion industry, as they are said to “constitute a social reality” (Howarth, 2016). The meaning of ‘social reality’ identifies with consumer’s who live in similar societies that share the same practices and beliefs (Howarth, 2016). Therefore, for this assignment the literature used will only focus on western capitalism. When consumers share the same beliefs to ‘constitute a social reality’ this allows body shapes to become idealised by a mass number of consumers (Mukherjee, 1998). As a result, this leads to a mass number of consumers being influenced through visual identity and the portrayal of various body forms (Yeh and Lin, 2009).

Within this three-part exhibition catalogue, the author will mainly focus on how fashionable body shapes, contextual advertising and fashion retail all link together and how this has changed throughout eras. As Lončar et al. (2015) states, the use of advertising is more than promoting a product. If brands want to connect with consumers on an emotional level, brands must persuade and increase customer relationships by ‘transferring messages, values and ideas’ (Lončar, Nigoević and Vučica, 2015). Therefore, it is important for advertisers to use this knowledge as an advantage. This will allow them to create profitable images that relate to current social preferences that match their target consumer through idealised body types.

Social and cultural factors are said to play a major role on consumer’s preferences of idealised beauty. This is due to advertisers and the mass media, supporting and dominating these fashionable body ideals throughout various eras. Observation of this theory is supported by the analysis of the 1910’s Gibson girl. The fashionable body was a woman who was ‘tall, with long arms and legs and a definite air of athleticism. Her bosom and hips remained noticeable, but she was a distinctly thinner figure overall’ (Stearns, 1999).

This shows a distinctive difference to 1990’s body ideal ‘the waif’ in which supermodel Kate Moss popularised the ‘Heroin Chic look’, a thin androgynous body shape ideal. If we look at the culture at the time we can start to understand why it differed so much in 80years. The contrast of these two fashionable body shape ideals is easy to see and will allow the author to conduct a critical analysis as to why these and other body shapes were popularised in various era’s due to social representations in the fashion industry, also considering social and cultural factors.

Popular culture is a mass-produced ‘ideal’ and favoured by many (Storey, 2015). This standalone comment demonstrates the importance of relating popular culture to the overall theme of this three-part exhibition. The definition of the term ‘popular culture’ also demonstrates how social representations and fashion images become influential to a mass market. Developing understanding as to how fashionable body shape ideals become known will be highlighted through high end images and how they trickle down to influence low end fashion images. Popular culture is thought to eliminate the different classes of high and low culture, as social representations promoted in the mass media has no boundaries when influencing westernised societies (Storey, 2015). Popular culture also links with contextual advertising and demonstrates how brands change their marketing strategy to meet the needs of consumers. However, due to social and technological changes media today is different from the 1900’s, changing the way consumers are influenced (Finkelstein, 1998).

The ‘social comparison theory’ (SEM) is a theoretical framework that develops understanding of positive and negative effects within social comparison, that are made know through upward and downward comparisons. In relation to the mass media and fashion images, most consumer’s experience ‘upward’ comparisons, that then cause negative effects, as consumers are comparing themselves to social comparisons that have ‘ideal’ body shapes. This then creates self-evaluation of one’s own body. Richins (1991) study supports this hypothesis as he illustrates how idealised images that are promoted; raised the standard of perfection but also create disaffection of one’s self, therefore creating self-hatred (Richins, 1991).

“The promoting of advertisement images becomes much more important than promoting the product itself” (Lončar et al., 2015). So forth, highlighting issues with false advertisement and exploitation of the female consumer within the fashion industry. As proposed by Chovanec and Lirola (2012), they discuss how cosmetic surgery leaflets abuse the female body ideal for their own financial benefits. This then relates to the fact that consumers care more about the endorser who is considered ‘beautiful’. Therefore, encouraging consumers to buy products what they believe subconsciously will bring them closer to social beliefs of ideal beauty (Chovanec and Lirola, 2012). This theory is backed up by Yu et al. (2011) as their research indicates that the mass media advertise ideal body shapes to create indication that ideal body shape are accessible through; “diet, exercise, fashionable clothing and accessories, make-up, plastic surgery, and weight management drugs” (Russell, Damhorst and Yu, 2011).

Social influences play a major role to an individual’s perception of a ‘ideal and idealised’ body shape, therefore no theory can discriminate against other body forms that are not considered beautiful by the mass media. Yu et al. (2011) studied the impact of body image on consumers and highlights that ‘consumers are not passive receivers’, therefore demonstrating not all consumers will buy into the idealised body shape (Yu, Damhorst and Russell, 2011).

Yu et al. (2011) study also shows results that several female consumers argued that the thin body ideal is not more appealing in advertisement. However, this could be due to 2010’s eras of the bootylicious and curvaceous body shape making an appearance in the mass media and influencing consumer’s thoughts, and shaping their defiance and attitude towards thin ideals (Yu, Damhorst and Russell, 2011). Even though ‘ideal’ body shapes are considered more attractive, brands advertise to their target market, taking into consideration social influences and body ideals. However, businesses will at times go against these social and cultural ideals to keep their brand identity when advertising products.

Chitty and D’Alessandro (2011) propose that the ‘Body shape of the endorser will have a significant effect on a consumer’s attitude toward the brand’. This hypothesis however only relates to brands that are not targeting to their consumer correctly, which is in contradiction with Lončar et al (2015) theory. Lončar et al (2015) states that ‘advertising is sold based on the demographic of the audience expected to view the ads’, therefore conflicting Chitty and D’Alessandro (2011) suggestion.

Era’s’ of fashionable body shapes

“Within Western industrialized cultures, there have been many changes over the years in the body shape and size that is considered attractive and healthy, especially for woman.  It is possible to trace a cultural change in the ideal body, from the voluptuous figures favoured from the Middle Ages until the turn of the twentieth century, to the thin body types favoured by the fashion magazines of today.” (Grogan, 2017, p18)

Popular culture has changed a great deal from the 1900’s to present day and this so forth has changed the way images are mass communicated through consumers in westernized societies. Gibson’s (2011) study on fashion and celebrity culture, discusses how popular culture has changed and adapted to meet the demands of celebrity phenomenon’s. Gibson illustrates how popular culture and the fashion industry are driven and dominated by celebrity culture (Gibson, 2011). Therefore, linking with social representations and their influence on ideal body shapes across westernised cultures. This theory is supported by Apeagyei (2008), who verified through research that consumers are influenced by ideal body shapes, through the advertisement of celebrities in the media and throughout popular culture (Apeagyei, 2008). Yet, without the digital revolution and social and political happenings throughout the years, it is believed that this would not be the case (Gibson, 2011). The development of digital technology is thought to be linked with the demand of celebrity culture through the fashion industry, due to the extensive handiness of mass marketing gained from digital developments. It has made celebrity culture easily assessable to both highbrow and lowbrow cultures, therefore dominating popular culture and influencing body shape ideals (Gibson, 2011).

“The Edwardian body beautiful had rotund breasts, a handspan waist, accentuated hips and a protruding posterior” (Watson, 2000) (Figure 1a).

Before the 1900’s the ideal female body was round and plump in all places, so forth representing that she was ‘fertile’, coordinating with popular culture and woman’s lifestyles in that time period (Grogan, 2017). However, popular culture in the 1900’s saw a transformation with female independence during the suffragette movement, thus articulated through the 1900’s feminine body shape ideal, known as the ‘Gibson Girl’. The movement in woman’s rights is thought to have coordinated with the newly shapely but still curvy fashioned self, with an ‘ideal’ body shape of a petite waist, with a big bust and wide hips (Stearns, 2002) (Watson, 2000).

The ‘Gibson girl’ figure was fabricated through an S-shaped corset to achieve the fashionable body shape that are shown in the images below (Figure 1b). Also, exemplifying that this body shape ideal was easily achievable to obtain compared to various other ideals, due to a product being made to create a specific body shape that was correspondingly ‘ideal’ to society. “Women wore corsets to shape their bodies away from nature and toward a more ‘civilized’ ideal form,” (Killgrove, 2017). Thus, demonstrating consumers are influenced by popular culture and will follow trends that are ‘perceived’ to make them look better, to change their body image to somewhat that’s ‘ideal’. It could also be argued, that this ‘ideal’ body shape was an imitation of an ideal body shape, as many woman in the 1900’s did not have the hourglass shape naturally, unless they wore a corset (Figure 1c). Yet, how is it different from today’s society, where it acceptable to photo-shop images to make them ‘ideal’, and where plastic surgery is easily accessible.

Naomi Wolf (1991) study on how images of beauty are used against woman in the beauty myth; relates to the birth of feminism, and even though there is freedom of woman’s rights, Wolf’s study argues that the society use images of “female beauty as a political weapon”. That causes insecurity in woman and girls, and creates ‘ideal’ obsessions throughout females (Wolf, 1991).

The 1900’s witnessed, “the golden age of illustration” and Charles Dana Gibson was significantly influential through his illustrations of the ‘Gibson Girl’ featured on magazine covers, that not only signified ideal female beauty but portrayed popular culture. As previously mentioned in the literature review; ‘popular culture’ is a mass-produced culture that is ‘ideal’ and favoured by many (Storey, 2015). Even though photographs were making an entrance in the early 1900’s, Kitch (2001) study explains how magazines persisted to carry on using illustrations on their covers because “they were dealing in ideals rather than reality” (Kitch, 2001).

Yet, Camilla Clifford was one of Charles Gibson’s models and muse for his Gibson girl illustrations, making Camilla Clifford a social representation and a ‘reality’ idol of the early 1900’s ideal body shape ‘Gibson girls’

(Figure 1c). However due to the lack of technology and mass communication strategy’s, it is questionable if Camilla Clifford was a big enough influencer of the ideal body shape, as the ‘Gibson Girl’ body shape was easily accessible through an s-shapes corset, making illustration ideals more influential than the reality of social representations in 1900’s.

“In the 1980s models were slim and looked physically fit, with lithe, toned bodies.” (Grogan, 2017) (Figure 2a)

As stated in the previous paragraph, popular culture in the 1900’s was about obtaining an ‘ideal’ body shape through a corset, however by the 1980’s popular culture had changed dramatically due to the changes in advance technology. Thus, causing popular culture to no longer be influenced by illustrations but by the popular media and the social reputations that were publicised through mass communication (Figure 2b). Dyer (1982) talks about the use of images and the influential persuasive impact they have on consumer’s behavioural attitudes. Due to development of technology leading up to the 1980’s (Digital revolution), Dyer argues that images today compared to pre-war “encourage extravagant expectations”. This also coordinating with ‘ideal’ body shapes made known by social representations in the press (Dyer, 1982). The 1980s, witnessed the birth of the supermodel and saw a rise in body thinness and anxiety throughout girls and woman in society. Popular culture put emphasis on thinness; representing and advertising a slim athletic figure. Social representations of the 1980’s era who were leading the ideal ‘supermodel’ body shape were celebrity models such as Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell (Figure 2c) (Gibson 2011). Yet, even though these social representations represented a healthy ideal through exercise, advertisements still put a massive emphasis on dieting, causing westernised culture to become obsessed with thin ideals.

“Articles on dieting in the popular press soared from 60 in the year 1979 to 66 in the month of January 1980 alone.” (Wolf, 1991).

Again, bringing up issues with unrealistic body shape ideals for a majority of consumers, as supermodels were born with a slim physique. However even though the 1980’s body shape ideal was achievable through diet and exercise, not everyone can achieve the ‘supermodel’ body shape ideal as much as they try due to genetics, this also relating to Dyer (1982) and the encouragement of extravagant expectations. Thus, then causing self-hatred amongst consumers, relating to Naomi Wolf’s beauty myth as to how fashion images are used against woman (Wolf, 1991).

This then brings up issues with advertisers and their motives, which will be discussed about in a later chapter. As self-hatred and the obsession with ‘ideals’ is said to be beneficial for businesses and their profits (Brumberg and Brumberg, 1997).

Celebrity culture, as previously mentioned is said to influence popular culture and in 1990 this theory became true when Vogue published their first celebrity cover of five famous supermodels that were idealised for their looks and athletic body figures in the 1980’s (Figure 2d) (Watson, 2000). However, without the media and the popular press it is debated if this would be the case as going back to the 1900’s when illustrations was more influential than reality. This, demonstrating the technological changes in the fashion industry and throughout advertisement has helped celebrity culture dominate popular culture, so they become known to a mass market of consumers making them ‘ideal’.

“They [the fashion industry] wanted models that looked like junkies. The more skinnier and f****d up you look, the more everyone thinks you’re fabulous.” (Grogan, 2017) (Figure 3a)

Social representations and ideals in the fashion industry can quickly change and in the early 1990’s, the society witnessed the birth of Kate Moss, a social representation and the core influencer of the idolised body shape ‘the waif’ (Figure 3b) (Watson, 2000). Yet, even though fashionable body shapes can quickly change, 1980’s popular culture heavily influenced dieting and thinness and is thought to be a main cause of the extreme thinness ‘ideal’ in the 1990’s (Brumberg and Brumberg, 1997).

All these factors contributing to the encouragement of extravagant expectations in body shape ideals that led to the idealised ‘heroin chic’ look publicised by Kate Moss (Grogan, 2017).

“By 1995, American woman and girls were spending more than $100 million on cellulite busters” (Brumberg and Brumberg, 1997).

‘The waif’ also linked with grunge in popular culture, as this subculture not only linked with fashion but was characterized by the way you live and the use of drugs that became popular through the subculture ‘grunge’, linking with Kate Moss and her androgyny heroin chic look (Figure 3c) (Larsen, 2009). However, even though this body shape was fashionable and ‘ideal’ in the fashion industry and throughout subcultures, it caused controversial views across westernised societies and was deemed to create poor body image, especially in young woman (Diedrichs and Lee, 2011). Going back to celebrity culture and the influence social representations have on consumers own appearance and body shape ideals, it can be theorised by the ‘social comparison theory’, as talked about in the literature review. By understanding this theory, it is noticeable ‘the waif’ caused poor body image as the images used in popular media in the 1990’s caused upward comparison as ‘the waif’ promoted unhealthy diets that were not representative or biologically achievable in reality” without causing harm to the body (Figure 3d) (Diedrichs and Lee, 2011). Yet, the social comparison theory can also be adapted to most body shape ‘ideals’, publicised in the popular media and the fashion industry (Richins, 1991). Nevertheless, consumers still idealized the thin and bony figure, due to the mass media continuing to promote ‘the waif’, this also relating to Apeagyei (2008) study as to how consumers are influenced by body shape ideals (Apeagyei, 2008), (Figure 3e).

“Sexy booty is OK, apparently, only if it’s high and hard, and if other body-parts are kept firmly in check” (Grogan, 2017) (Figure 4a)

Supermodels in the 1980s were classed as celebrities and used throughout the fashion industry in magazines and advertisements, however in today’s 21st century era; the use of a celebrity is more beneficial and demanding than using an unspecified model (Gibson, 2011). The change in popular culture has therefore impacted on 2010’s body shape ideal ‘bootylicious’. In line with fashionable celebrities being more influential than models, it has caused body shape ideals to change due to social representations not acquiring the curve-less model physique. This links with the hypothesis that popular culture has changed and adapted to meet the demands of celebrity phenomenon’s. Social representations that are fashioning the ‘bootylicious’ body shape, are celebrities such as Beyoncé, Nicky Minaj and Kim Kardashian who all exhibit a figure that is all about acquiring a big bottom with a small waist (Figure 4b). Compared to 1990’s body shape ideal ‘the waif’ that caused poor body images, 2010’s body shape is thought to create a positive body image due to curves becoming fashionable again in westernised cultures. Yet the social comparison theory still applies to the ‘bootylicious’ body ideal, due to this body shape being deemed as ‘fake’. Appointed by Nicky Minaj who used cosmetic surgery to alter her body and enhance her ‘bottom’ to acquire the fashionable body shape (Figure 4c) (Harvey, Allen and Mendick, 2015). Therefore, the mass media have promoted and advertised ‘ideal’ body shapes that are not representative or biologically achievable in reality” (Diedrichs and Lee, 2011). However, in today’s 21st centaury society, cosmetic surgery has become easily accessible and influential in popular culture, making the ‘bootylicious’ body shape easily attainable without diet and exercise (Elliott, 2011).

Nevertheless, the ‘bootylicious’ body shape is still achievable to gain naturally, as Grogan (2017) discusses that if people want to adapt to 2010’s body shape ideal they will need to be very attentive to exercise and diet due to them not having toned and slim bodies naturally (Figure 4d) (Grogan, 2017).

Despite the mass media promoting the idealized ‘bootylicious’ body shape made known by social representations, the fashion industry continues to heavily promote thin and shapeless figures. This then suggesting that there is more than one ideal body shape throughout popular culture, making it unclear as to whether fashionable body shapes are purely driven by social representation in the fashion industry and throughout popular culture. On the other hand, social revolutions, technology advances and culture changes have still contributed to the making of popular body shape ideals throughout the various era’s (Gibson, 2011).

Contextual advertising for fashion

Millum (1975) and Dyer (1996) discuss how advertising is a social phenomenon yet even though this is true, it could also be argued that advertising has changed from the 1900’s to present day, like the evolvement of body shapes (Millum, 1975) (Dyer, 1996). The Oxford English Dictionary (2011) describes ‘advertisement’ as a form of public communication that promotes and publicises goods and services (Stevenson and Waite, 2011). However, while this is true, how advertisers and retailers promote products has changed due to the domain of the public and the changes in society over the eras (Finkelstein, 1998). This exhibition will therefore discuss how products & advertisements relate to ideal body shapes in that period, but also discuss the changes in fashion advertisement additionally.

Early 1900’s

As mentioned in the previous exhibition, the early 1900’s witnessed the phenomenon of the ‘Gibson Girl’. The product that fashioned this body shape was the ‘S-shaped corset’, a popular everyday product in the 1900’s for woman (Killgrove, 2017). The popular corset put emphasis on woman’s breasts and hips by raising and pushing the bust forward and by clinching the waist and lower abdomen (Figure 5a) (Grogan, 2017) (Glamourdaze.com, 2017). Not only did the corset influence the fashionable body shape but clothing in the 1900’s was made to fit effortlessly over the profound hips, putting further emphasis on the fashionable s-shape (Vam.ac.uk, 2017). However, by analysing the images, it could be argued that in the 1900’s, the fashionable body was more about obtaining the idealised silhouette rather than obtaining an ‘ideal’ body shape, due to the body shape being easily attainable through products.

As this era promoted and advertised the western society to obtain an S-shaped silhouette and figure through a corset, that fits a variety of body shapes (Vam.ac.uk, 2017). Popularised by social representations and advertisers (Figure 5b), the product came to dominate popular culture through ideology of the woman that represented the product and the messages the images portrayed to the society (Dyer, 1996).  Dyer (1996) discusses that “advertisements should be cheerful, and products should be linked to prosperity, social status and attractiveness” as in the 1900’s, psychological methods were said to be used to persuade consumers to buy products (Dyer, 1996).  Due to the popular s-bend corset dominating popular culture in the early 1900’s and leading the fashionable body silhouette, advertisers deemed that the corset was a ‘health’ corset, made for woman who are fashion forward and who ‘take pride in their figure’ (Figure 5c) (McNealy, 2017). Yet studies show that the s-bend corset caused deformation of the spine, contradicting the advertisers that promoted it to be a ‘health’ corset (Steele, 2007). Showing psychological methods advertisers used in the 1900’s; as in the 1900’s; the formation of the ‘Advertisers protection society’ became known, making advertisements more powerful of images and messages that they can promote (Millum, 1975). Therefore, in the 1900’s consumers were more likely to be naïve to what they read. However, this also could be due to the lack of research and the technological resources that were unavailable in that period (McNealy, 2017). In relation to the ‘Gibson Girl’, the idealised social representation of the 1900’s (Figure 5d); and by comparing (figure 1a and figure 5d), the comparison is noticeable as Camilla Clifford who popularised the Gibson girl body shape can be seen in advertisements using similar looks in models and illustrations (Vam.ac.uk, 2017)


The phenomenon of the idealised ‘super model’ body shape and the rise in attitudes to be thin, caused advertisers and the media to promote and influence consumers of this ‘ideal’ body shape. Due to exercise and fitness being a big trend in the 1980’s, workout videos were popular throughout western cultures due to many consumers idealising the thin and athletic body shapes (Hunt, 2013). Unlike the 1900’s, the 1980’s mass-media were promoting physical fitness to achieve the desired body shape instead of using a product (Figure 6a). Spandex (Lycra) was a popular material and product for workout videos as the stretchy body-hugging material allowed woman to move easily, and were thought to create better results (Figure 6b) (Deleon, 2012). Spandex were also used by consumers in the day to day life, especially consumers who were body-conscious as the material emphasised the body shape, due to its formfitting abilities. Fashion models who were the social representation of ‘ideal’ beauty in the 1980’s, fashioned this look through wearing formfitting clothing that used Lycra qualities (Figure 6c) (Deleon, 2012). However, due to the formfitting qualities, it is questionable if this product created body shaming throughout popular culture as research shows that woman compare themselves to what is perceived as more beautiful. This theory also linking with the social-comparison theory as mentioned in the literature review (Bromberg and Bromberg, 1997). The developments in technological happenings had also allowed for the mass-media to engulf consumers with images, due to the expansions of communication (Dyer, 1982). Overall, stimulating greater pressure to live up to advertisements and their ideas of beauty, due to print, television, the movies and the internet being made available to public alike (Hunt, 2013).

Analysing (Figure 6d), a ‘VERSACE’ advertisement from the 1980’s for miniskirts. Another popular product that became known in the super model era. The models in the advertisement impersonate the idealised super model body shape, as by inspecting the image it is noticeable that the models are all slim and toned, relating to the popular body shape what became known through celebrity super models (Deleon, 2012). Linking to Dyer’s study that ‘advertisements should show attractiveness’ and this being attractive in the 1980’s for consumers (Grogan, 2017). It is also debatable if the ‘miniskirt’ became popular due to the tall, slim and athletic supermodel body shapes that became idealised. As this popular body shape complemented the miniskirt.


The fashionable thin androgynous body shape that was heavily influenced from popular culture in the 1980’s, came to influence highbrow and lowbrow cultures in the 90’s, causing a trickledown effect through advertisements and fashion trends (Delong, 2017). As (figure 7a) shows Kate Moss on the catwalk in 1995, representing the 1990’s idealised ‘waif’ body shape (Spedding, 2017). This body shape not only influencing highbrow culture, but a mass number of consumers through mass communication. Due to the development in technology and communication as mentioned in the previous exhibition, influential communication became more accessible to both advertisers and consumers (Finkelstein, 1998). As (figure 7b) illustrates a page from the commercial fashion magasine ‘Seventeen’, that was released in 1996 (Seventeen, 2013). Analysing the image in the bottom right corner of (figure 7b), it is notable that the advertisers have used images of high end designer clothes and models that are on trend, to influence their readers as a guide to the latest fashions.

Additionally, the commercial models the magasine used also represent the idealised thin body shape in the 90’s; This could suggest ‘if you want to look like the model, buy the clothes’.

This fitting with advertisements and their purpose to persuade and promote products, as previously mentioned, products should be linked to attractiveness (Dyer,1996). The thin idealised body shape was also promoted within fashion brands both designer and high street. As from analysing (Figure 7c) a campaign advertisement from the international brand ‘United colours of Benetton’; it is noticeable that the global brand has followed the trend and used thin androgynous female models in their 1990’s campaign (Deleon, 2015) (Armstrong, 2015). Showing the influential impact idealised body shapes have on both advertisers and consumers. However, as mentioned, brands target a specific consumer and the audience who will view the advertisements, linking back to Lončar et al (2015) theory (Lončar, Nigoević and Vučica, 2015). Therefore, this suggests that there is always going to be more than one ideal body shape in the fashion industry for various brands. However, the media and advertisers are more likely to promote the body shape with a fashionable and idealised social representation. This being the ‘waif’ in the 1990’s, as being thin in this era was on trend with consumers, through influence of social representation and popular culture at the time, this being the sub-culture ‘Grunge’ (Larsen, 2009). Due to grunge influencing unhealthy habits and Kate Moss being a social representation of both the thin body shape and the sub-culture, she was also influencing non-fashion products (McCormick, 2016).

As (Figure 7d) illustrates Kate in front of a logo for the cigarette company ‘Marlboro’. Therefore, influencing consumers on the ‘Heroin chic’ look that was fashioned by Kate Moss who would have promoted the brand without hard selling the ‘unhealthy’ product. Due to celebrities and Kate Moss being persuasive on consumers purchase intentions.

This is further highlighted by McCormick (2016) who studied how the physical appearance of the endorser and demonstrated the positive  and effective impact that this has on the consumer and their decision to buy products.


Even though social representations throughout the various era have had celebrity status, idealised social representations have become more evident in the 2010’s era of the ‘bootylicious’ body shape (Figure 8a) (Gibson, 2011). Additionally, compared to the 1900’s, consumers are no longer passive receivers due to changes in society and popular culture, therefore advertisers have had to change the way they promote products to consumers, this being celebrity endorsement through the mass-media (Gibson, 2011). However social media has changed the cycle of advertisement altogether, as celebrities have become so influential on consumer’s perceptions of ideal beauty. Therefore, making celebrities their own advertisement and endorsement, and thus making brands respond and mirror their style (Featherstone, 2010) (Figure 8b). This then defying high fashion and making it accessible to all. As figure 8b illustrates; a model that was used for the fashion brand ‘Pretty Little Thing’, representing the hour glass figure that became known from celebrities in the current era. The 2010’s ‘bootylicious’ body shape as previously mentioned is an hourglass figure; firm in all places with a voluptuous bum and a clinched waist (Grogan, 2017). Yet even though this idealised body shape is attainable through diet and exercise, it is also deemed fake through plastic surgery by the promotion of the high exceptional idealised body shape for most people. As even though it is a popular female body shape, it is estimated that only 8 percent of woman acquire the idealised hourglass body shape (Figure 6c) (Russell, Damhorst and Yu, 2011).

However, it has become significantly influential, that a product (waist trainer) have been made so consumers can attain the fashionable body shape. Figure 8d illustrates a post from Kim Kardashian’s Instagram of her in a ‘waist trainer’. It is said to accentuate curves, to create the fashionable hour glass body shape (Instagram.com, no date).

Yet, Kim Kardashian was already a social representation of the idealised body shape. However, the mass media do not promote all the work that has gone into 21st century ideal body shapes, so forth creating false advertisement, as previously mentioned (Chovanec  and Lirola, 2012). Yet consumers continue to buy products that they believe will get them closer to the ideal curvaceous body shape of the era. Using non-academic data, the popular ‘waist trainer’, has fashioned throughout westernised countries with over 914,000photo posts that have been added to Instagram using the hashtag waisttraining, making it a social phenomenon (Instagram.com, 2017). More so, it is questionable if the era of the ‘bootylicous’ body shape has created positive body image, due to more advertisements using regular models. As Figure 8e and figure 8b illustrate, various brands using curvy models have been brought out in the era of 2010. Therefore, it is debatable if the ‘bootylicious’ body shape has influenced consumers, retailers, and advertisers to promote this idealised body shape further. Due to curvy becoming the new skinny, as more retailers bring out various products for different shapes and sizes (Larkin, 2016).


By analysing the various eras and figures, it is noticeable that they all show the influential power social representations have had on body shapes across the fashion industry and advertisements. As the images, show the evolvement of body shapes and how they come to dominate periods.

However, looking at the present day and the current ‘bootylicious’ body shape it is arguable that there is always going to be more than one body shape ideal in the fashion industry.  Due to thin models, still being hugely used throughout the fashion industry and in advertisements. Therefore, even though it is clear the influence various body shapes and social representations have on advertisements, they will not be the only ‘ideal’ for consumers, retailers and advertisers.

Product promotion: Content analysis of VOGUE

Content Analysis

The Oxford English Dictionary (2011) defines ‘content analysis’ as a method to define and describe communication that is visual, written or spoken, through the analysation, expression and meaning of various content. Stemler (2001) suggests that content analysation’s, are good for identifying trends, to strengthen the research that has been found. Therefore, this exhibition will look and critique VOGUE magazine, and its previous covers and advertisement’s, in relation to the key era’s (Stemler, 2001).

‘The fashion bible’, commonly known as VOGUE, is the foremost and original trend driven magazine that became known 120 years ago in 1892. Giving readers a publication that is complete with fashion and beauty trends.  Dictated by high standards, the forward fashion magazine is central with upper class brands, by using favorable models, designers, actors, photographers and authors in the fashion industry (Condenast, 2017).  Linking with culture, the VOGUE brand aim to influence consumers globally, by contextualising with the world we live in, linking with the first exhibition and the importance of popular culture (Condé Nast, 2017).

VOUGE’s target demographic is between 21-40 years of age with a high income, who is a fashionista for style and the latest trends. British VOGUE consumer, is estimated to have an average age of 33, with 87% of them being woman (Condé Nast, 2017). VOGUE readers want premium products, using style trends from high-end designers. Therefore, with the magazine being prestige, it has set a fixed standard to what they choose to promote, due to the readership and the high-brow brands VOGUE advertise and promote. As follows, it is then questionable if VOGUE had/has followed the trends of the various ‘ideal’ body forms, due to the status that they uphold. As several previous ideal body shapes do not match the prestige culture VOGUE stand for. Consequently, it is therefore important to analyse and critique the VOGUE magazine, to understand how popular and influential ‘ideal’ body shapes are in the fashion industry.

January 1900 issue

By analysing figures 9a, VOGUE’S January 1900 issue, the front cover shows an illustration of female figure that was idealised in the early 1900’s (Grogan, 2017). By already having knowledge of what was idealised in the early 1900’s from the previous exhibitions, it is comprehensible that this was expressed in VOGUE’S 1900 cover issue (The Vogue Archive, 1900). Due to the silhouette of the woman and the s-shape figure that she possesses. However, the figure of the woman is still distinctively thin, even though the popular s-shape corset was designed for various body forms. As the silhouette of females in 1900 era, was more important than the size of your figure. The female illustration is also less curvy compared to other images that have been displayed in various exhibitions. This linking with the hypothesis that thin model’s and female illustrations, will always be used in VOGUE, due to the representation they uphold.

The front cover also linking with popular culture at the time, as previously mentioned illustrations were more favorable than photograph’s in the 1900 era (Storey, 2015).  Moving on to analysation of the advertisements, it is noticeable that the idealised ‘Gibson girl’ figure and appearance is used throughout the 1900’s advertisements, observed and compared from exhibition one and two. Advertisements for the popular corset are also illustrated, again showing how fashionable corsets were in the 1900’s (Killgrove, 2017.

Furthermore, the corset advertisement is promoting thinness, as the text on the magazine is promoting it to reduce fatness and lengthen the waist. “Corsets for reducing corpulency and lengthening the waist” (The Vogue Archive, 1900). Therefore, contradicting the earlier evaluation that consumers in the 1900’s were more interested in obtaining the s-shape silhouette rather than size of their body. Yet, this could also be due to VOGUE’s reputation and the trends they are setting for their target audience and their elite readers (The Vogue Archive, 1900).

August 1982 issue

1982 the era of the ‘supermodel’ body shape, and the start of dieting and exercise became known throughout popular culture and society. This identified by the text on VOGUE’s 1982 cover (Figures 9b). As VOGUE advertise “new active style”, prompting consumers that they should adapt to the active trend both materialistically and physically (The Vogue Archive, 1982). Due to VOGUE being the initial point to go for the latest trends and styles. The social representation and celebrity on the cover was actress ‘Brook Shields’, she too having the slim and toned body shape, that was idealised in the 1980’s (The Vogue Archive, 1982). Millum (1975) discusses how ‘typification’ are more ideal, if advertisers use celebrities that symbolize what they are trying to promote, as they are more influential (Millum, 1975).

Therefore, by VOGUE using a well-known and idealised social representation on their front cover they are more likely to identify with consumers. Generating consumers to take note of the latest trends and fashions. The advertisements in the 1982 August issue, illustrates content that links with popular culture in the 1980’s, diet and exercise (Dyer, 1982). Again, illustrating a social representation of the exercise trend, this then reaching consumers beliefs, that cause them to follow new fad’s. Even though the ‘ideal’ body shape in the 1980’s was slim and toned, ‘a body shape that showed she exercised’, the advertisement for lingerie in VOGUE failed to do this. As analysing the image, it is visible that the models used are more distinctly thinner than toned, compared to the images in the previous exhibitions for the 1980’s era. Again, passing judgment on the high fashion magazine ‘VOGUE’ and its exploitation of thin models, regardless of ideal body shapes. However, this also could be due to the brand VOGUE were advertising, as previously mentioned brands advertise to consumers who are expected to view the advertisements, justifying why VOGUE use thin models. Again, linking back to the previous exhibition, on the discussion that brands advertise to their target market, like VOGUE. As Azzedine Alaïa a well-known designer in the 1980’s stated that “We are becoming more and more physically and mentally conditioned towards healthy living; the molding of clothes should reflect this” (Watson, 2000). Again, linking back to popular culture and the previous exhibitions. The advertisement in VOGUE for ‘Quickslim’ (Figure 9b), is relevant to what was desired in the 1980’s (The Vogue Archive, 1982). This being slim and toned in all places, as already mentioned, the 1980’s put further emphasis on diet and exercise, therefore more weight loss products were being made available, hence the ‘Quickslim’ advertisement. Therefore, demonstrating VOGUE advertise to their reader’s preferences and the latest fad’s in popular culture.

September 1995 issue

Following on from the 1980’s, the thin idealised body shape continued through to the 1990’s, however further emphasis was put on extreme weight loss and the desire to have an androgynous look with a thin body frame. Figures 9c illustrates a VOGUE issue from September 1995 (The Vogue Archive, 1995). The era of the ‘waif’ in the 1990’s coordinated with the sub-culture grunge, however the front cover of VOGUE in 1995 illustrates two healthy looking models, pictured against and surrounded by text that is bright in colour (The Vogue Archive, 1995). In contrast with the dark sub-culture that was popular in the 1990’s, yet the models are still noticeably thin. Even though the ‘waif’ was enormously idealised, there are many reasons why advertisers and designers choose to use skinny models.  Due to various reasons being, the sample sizing of garments and the fact that garments flow and hang better on thinner models, overall creating a nicer finish visually (Clements, 2013). Despite this, the idealised ‘waif’, can be seen through VOGUE’s 1995 issue and in the fashion industry still today. The social representation of the idealised body shape ‘Kate Moss’, is illustrated in figures 9c modelling for the brand Calvin Klein (The Vogue Archive, 1995). Kate Moss captured the spirit of the sub-culture ‘grunge’, for Calvin Klein’s obsession perfume advertisement. The image both portraying the thin and bony figure; and the blank expression that were both popular in the 1990’s, in the mass media and in the fashion industry (Larsen, 2009). As Millum (1975) discusses that poses and expressions communicate meaning throughout culture. This being the vacant expression that linked with the sub-culture, as ‘Grunge’ was known for its uninterested attitude, Kate exemplifying this in Figures 9c (Millum, 1975). Previously mentioned, celebrities are more influential than just ordinary models, as Millum (1975) again discusses that individuals are captivated to the models that are publicised before anything else (Millum, 1975).

Thus, exemplifying why brands and VOGUE, use favorable people in the fashion industry to work with, as they influence consumers and readers further. Figures 9c also illustrate the evolvement of culture and the development of content, as the last image is putting further emphasis on celebrities and a high-fashion lifestyle (The Vogue Archive, 1995). Relating to VOGUE and their brand image, as they are creating a lifestyle for their readers to go along with the latest clothes.

April 2012 issue

In April 2012, VOGUE represented the ‘bootylicious’ body shape, an hourglass figure that is firm in all places, on their front cover of their ‘shape’ issue by using Jennifer Lopez (Figures 9d) (The Vogue Archive, 2012). Social representation ‘Jennifer Lopez’, is a well-known and idealised celebrity, again linking back to how influential celebrities are and justifying why VOGUE had used this certain model. As Jennifer is an icon of fashion and beauty in the fashion industry, consequently attracting consumers to buy the magazine.

Yet even though Jennifer Lopez is a social representation on the ‘bootylicious’ body shape, it is unclear if VOGUE used her because of this reason or because she is a well-known and an idealised celebrity (Gibson, 2012). However, the text on the front cover is insinuating that Jennifer Lopez has the ideal body shape by using words such as; “Your best body ever” and “Get better curves” (The Vogue Archive, 2012).  As mentioned before, brands use models that symbolize what they are trying to promote, therefore implying Jennifer has the ‘ideal’ body shape (Millum, 1975).

The colour of the image and text are also very bold and bright, therefore making the front cover stand out and the messages that they are trying to translate through the text, making it clear to the readers. VOGUE’s advertisements and the models used (Figures 9d), are again all very rich in colour, making the images visually stimulating and overall creating an effective finish. The body shapes of the models in the advertisements are thin but they are noticeably curvier than 1990’s ‘waif’ (The Vogue Archive, 2012). As the VERSACE advertisement shows a female model that is slim and toned, however her pose is putting emphasis on her clinched waist and sizable bum, representing a comparable ‘bootylicious’ body shape (Gibson, 2012). Again, it is unknown if the idealised ‘bootylicous’ body shape has anything to do with the stance of the model, however it is noticeable that the body shape has influenced changes to the models VOGUE has used in their 2012 issue (The Vogue Archive, 2012). However, this also could be due the trends VOGUE is promoting in this 2012 issue, this being a body shape that is all about obtaining the right curves. The Calvin Klein advertisement also, is putting emphasis on the new body shape trend that acquires a sizable and firm bum. As the image illustrates a woman’s bottom in Calvin Klein Jeans as the main image of the advertisement, this then insinuating that the bum is an important aspect of a woman’s body and again linking to the idealised ‘bootylicious’ body shape in that period (The Vogue Archive, 2012).


Evidently the images in the VOGUE exhibition do display the evolvement of body shapes in their magazine issues, as it is somewhat noticeable how the use of models has changed. This also can be seen from the development in advertisements from the 1900’s to the current era. However, if VOGUE want to carry on being ‘the fashion bible’ of the latest trends, they need to change with popular culture alongside ideal body forms. Yet even though VOGUE has somewhat shown the evolvement of body shapes, the models used are still noticeably slim. As even though, VOGUE follow and set trends, the thin idealised model will always be used, due to the representation VOGUE uphold. Again, linking back to the theory that there is more than one ‘ideal’ body shape in the fashion industry.


The focus of this study and the three-part exhibition catalogues, was to show how body shape ideals have evolved and changed through various era’s. The study overall demonstrated the influential persistence made known by social representations and ideal body shapes. Overall demonstrating the effect, they both have on advertisements, consumers, fashion retail and product promotion.

Figure 10 illustrates the findings from this study. As the three exhibitions; ‘Eras of fashionable body shapes’, ‘Contextual advertising for fashion’ and ‘product promotion’ all evolve and change with ‘ideal’ body shapes. Yet they all link together and overlap. This then creates ‘ideal’ body shapes to become popular and idealised to a wide range of consumers. Making them the social phenomenon’s that they are today.

Figure 10

Overall, the figures throughout the exhibitions, indicate fashionable body shapes have always evolved within popular culture. Overall, giving the author and reader a clear idea and upstanding of previous body shapes and the importance and influential power popular culture, the mass-media, advertisements and social representations have on consumer’s perceptions of ‘ideal’ beauty. The various era’s and ideal body shapes also indicate that they change and grow dependent on various era’s. Again, advertising changes with ideal body forms, as mentioned in the main body, “Advertisements should link to attractiveness”. However, brands and advertisers will go against ideal if they don’t match the ethos of the brand. It is also understandable that fashion retail and products also link with fashionable body shape, this making it a never-ending cycle. Therefore, there is no body shape that is purely and forever considered fashionable and attractive in society. This adding to the purpose of this study and the aim to communicate positive body image, as the current body shape ideal was not considered attractive in the 1990’s, and vise versa. Therefore, consumers should not feel body hatred, as one moment in time, their body shape would have been considered attractive. However, slim figures will continue to be used and idealised, throughout time, due to the representation and persona that they have in the fashion industry.

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